• Literary Terms

When & How to Write Tragedy

  • Definition & Examples
  • When & How to Write Tragedy

How to Write Tragedy

  • Start with the hero. The hero is the main element of any tragedy. The hero should be doing well in the beginning – respected, skilled, and usually honorable. But there’s also a key flaw in the hero’s character. Pick a flaw that you feel your readers can relate to, something that they may find in themselves from time to time. Despite the hero’s flaw, the audience should still be rooting for him as they read – otherwise the ending won’t be sad for them.
  • Plan out a series of snowballing events. It might start small. The hero might overstep his authority at work due to overconfidence; or she might have a relapse of addiction. But from the first event, something else happens, which then leads to something else, and slowly the negative events start to spiral out of control.
  • Begin with the end in mind. In terms of structure, the most important part of a tragedy is its ending. The ending has to show the hero’s final destruction, usually (but not always) meaning death. You should have an ending in mind as you write, so that you have some idea of what you’re building up to. How will your hero be destroyed? What fatal flaw will result in the catastrophe? And how will you describe the end so that readers feel the sad and pitiable emotions of pathos?

When to Use Tragedy

Tragedy is a kind of story structure, so it’s most relevant to creative writing. However, tragedies also need space to develop – you can’t write one overnight, or within the space of just a couple of pages. So if you’re going to write a tragedy for a creative writing class, you should make sure you start way ahead of time and that you’re prepared to write a pretty long piece with a gradual story arc from beginning to tragic end. If you’re writing your tragedy outside of class, of course, you won’t need to worry about deadlines and can give the piece the time and attention that it needs to become a really great tragedy.

Although tragedy is generally used in literature, it can also be a useful concept in essays , especially biographical essays. A good biography needs to take a particular viewpoint on the person in question, and it helps to have an overall narrative structure. Tragedy fits both requirements: it gives you a structure for the piece, and also helps guide how you portray the subject. You might argue, for example, that Napoleon was a tragic figure whose fatal flaw was hubris (see Related Terms ).

List of Terms

  • Alliteration
  • Amplification
  • Anachronism
  • Anthropomorphism
  • Antonomasia
  • APA Citation
  • Aposiopesis
  • Autobiography
  • Bildungsroman
  • Characterization
  • Circumlocution
  • Cliffhanger
  • Comic Relief
  • Connotation
  • Deus ex machina
  • Deuteragonist
  • Doppelganger
  • Double Entendre
  • Dramatic irony
  • Equivocation
  • Extended Metaphor
  • Figures of Speech
  • Flash-forward
  • Foreshadowing
  • Intertextuality
  • Juxtaposition
  • Literary Device
  • Malapropism
  • Onomatopoeia
  • Parallelism
  • Pathetic Fallacy
  • Personification
  • Point of View
  • Polysyndeton
  • Protagonist
  • Red Herring
  • Rhetorical Device
  • Rhetorical Question
  • Science Fiction
  • Self-Fulfilling Prophecy
  • Synesthesia
  • Turning Point
  • Understatement
  • Urban Legend
  • Verisimilitude
  • Essay Guide
  • Cite This Website

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Posted on Jan 12, 2021

What Is a Tragic Hero? Definition, Examples & Common Traits

If you’re looking for character type with a serious literary pedigree, look no further than the tragic hero. From the Greek theatre to Shakespeare to the Star Wars prequels, these unfortunate protagonists populate some of the most memorable stories ever told. With this in mind, let’s furrow our brows, dust off our prop skulls, and peel back the tortured layers of this complex character type. 

What is the definition of a tragic hero?

In literature, a tragic hero is a character with heroic or noble traits, but also a fatal flaw that ultimately leads to their downfall. This flaw could be anything, from pride or vanity to excessive curiosity or jealousy, but it will always lead to the character’s demise, whether literal (i.e. death) or metaphorical (losing their position or reputation, for example).

Aristotle’s tragic hero

Tragic hero - a glossary of useful greek tragic terms

In his treatise Poetics , published over 2,000 years ago, the ancient philosopher Aristotle first defined the concept of a tragic hero, outlining characteristics shared by all protagonists of classical tragedies (see the next section for these).

Aristotle believed that tragedy, above all, should invoke catharsis in the audience, allowing them to experience fear, pity, and awe while watching the misfortunes of the tragic hero unfold. This, he believed, would purge the audience of extreme emotions within a controlled environment and, in turn, give way to relief.

Don’t mess with the gods (and other useful lessons)

Tragedy was also meant as a tool to educate the people on the realities of life and, in particular, the relationship between men and gods. Often, a tragic hero’s downfall was a result of them disobeying a god or believing they could subvert the gods’ will (damn you, hubris!) .

The great tragedians showed audiences that a sudden downturn in fate could happen to anyone who defied the will of the gods and other superiors. By punishing characters who rose above their station and flaunted their hubris , tragedy imparted a powerful lesson about the mutability of human fate, and the importance of respecting the status quo . After all, if great kings like Agamemnon could be thrown from their pedestal by tragedy, what’s to stop that happening to the average Joe (or average Jason, if they were Greek)?

What are the characteristics of a tragic hero?

Tragic hero - Laurence Olivier as Hamlet

Tragic heroes don’t have to be ancient Greek kings and princesses. They come in all shapes and sizes and can appear in any genre. Here are a few characteristics commonly found in tragic heroes:

They’re usually a pretty good person 

They won’t be perfect (that’s kind of the whole point), but tragic heroes are typically well-intentioned people with a solid moral compass. Their motivations should be relatable, even if they are sometimes misguided.

They start their story doing well

The reversal-of-fate coming in the plot means the character has to start out doing pretty okay. While they’re not always the literal king (a la Oedipus), they’re usually comfortable and happy.

The audience must root for them

Their virtues are clear enough that the reader or audience is on their side and experiences sympathy for the hero when things start to unravel. Indeed, the audience has to root for them for a tragedy to work: if they disliked them, their unhappy ending wouldn’t be, well, tragic!.

But they have that pesky fatal flaw...

There are a variety of possibilities for what that flaw might be (we’ll give you a few examples later in this post), but this is an essential, non-negotiable element of being a true tragic hero. Aristotle referred to this fatal flaw as a hamartia.

Not sure what fatal flaw to give your tragic hero? Check out our list of 70 fascinating character flaws for inspiration! 

Their downfall is (kind of) their own fault

All tragic heroes must have a peripeteia, a sudden reversal of the hero’s hitherto good fortune. These bad things don’t usually just happen to them at random. There should be a connection between their own innate failings (their hamartia) and the misfortunes they suffer — even if that connection is a complex one.

Their punishment isn’t always fair

For example, having all of the ills of the world unleashed upon you and going down in history as the source of mankind’s undoing is a pretty harsh sentence for just being a little nosy, but that’s what happened to Pandora. In these stories, the punishment rarely seems to fit the crime, and the reader is left wondering whether the hero really deserved the consequences meted out to them — making their fate all the more tragic.

They become more self-aware over the course of the story

The tragic hero recognizes the error of their ways, usually after they’ve hit rock bottom as a consequence of them. This moment of recognition is a hallmark of the tragic hero’s character arc , referred to by Aristotle as the anagnorisis . Unfortunately, this self-awareness usually comes a little too late.

They don’t get a happy ending

A tragic hero, true to their name, doesn’t run off into the sunset in the end. They may have some kind of satisfying conclusion as they experience growth or come to terms with the new state of affairs, but their downfall is an irreversible one.

Free course: Character Development

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What’s the difference between a tragic hero and an anti-hero?

There’s often confusion between tragic heroes and anti-heroes. Both are interesting and complex character archetypes — however, these two terms aren’t interchangeable, and denote very different types of characters.

In basic terms, the anti-hero is someone who, despite being the hero of a story, distinctly lacks heroic qualities. They might do good things, but not necessarily for good reasons. On the other hand, the tragic hero is someone who is generally morally righteous and heroic, with the exception of their fatal flaw. Their intentions are generally noble, while the anti-hero’s usually aren’t.

If an anti-hero sounds more like what you’re looking for, you can check out our definitive guide to anti-heroes .

5 tips for writing a great tragic hero

Tragic hero - Romeo and Juliet

If you’re currently developing your characters and are interested in writing a tragic hero into your story, here are a few tips:

1. You don’t have to stick to the formula exactly

Writing isn’t always about following the rules! For example, if you want to give your tragic hero another reversal of fate from bad back to good, or have them realize they aren’t the only one to blame, go for it — subverting the formula and surprising your audience can be a great plot twist !

2. Show the tragic flaw — don’t tell it

This tip goes for pretty much anything you write. Instead of telling your readers that your hero is stubborn, show examples of them behaving that way. The golden rule of “ show, don’t tell ” will make your writing more interesting and encourage your readers to do the work to figure the character out!

3. Align your hero’s arc with your story structure

If you’re planning on incorporating the classic tragic story beats (e.g. establishing the status quo, a reversal of fate, a moment of realization when your hero is at their lowest, plenty of dramatic irony ), make sure you think carefully about when it’ll be most effective to deploy those moments. If you don’t, you might find the climax of your story comes too early after the rising action or falls flat. It can therefore help to figure out your story structure ahead of time.

4. Carefully construct your hero’s backstory

Giving your character a fatal flaw is a good start in making sure they’re fully fleshed out, and therefore more memorable. But don’t stop there! You can add even more depth to your character by creating a backstory that supports their flaw, as well as considering their other personality traits. Filling out a character profile or character questionnaire can be helpful with this.

5. Don’t neglect your antagonist

Just because you’ve got a super interesting protagonist doesn’t mean you can have a boring antagonist (the person opposing them). In fact, since your protagonist is morally grey themselves, writing a foil to a tragic hero lends itself well to complex and interesting antagonists. Whether you include an anti-villain , a friend-turned-foe, or any other variant, if you’re including an antagonist, make sure you give them enough depth and create a worthy adversary for your tragic hero.

For more tips on how to write a great villain, you can check out our video on the topic below!

Z6N2eF0WzhQ Video Thumb

Examples of tragic heroes in literature

Warning, spoilers ahead!

Oedipus (from Sophocles’ Oedipus the King)

Where they start: At the start of the play, Oedipus is the king of Thebes. At the very top of society, he’s a little full of himself, but overall a good person.

The fatal flaw: His hubris in believing that he can fight his destiny.

What went wrong: For his whole adult life, Oedipus, a foundling who became king, had a prophecy looming over him: that he would bed his mother and slay his father. He discovers that as a result of his arrogant efforts to subvert the course of the future (never a good idea in Greek mythology), he has unwittingly married his mother and murdered his father. Whoops!

Where they end up:  He is driven mad by the revelation and blinds himself.

Antigone (from Sophocles’ Antigone)

Where they start: Before the tragedy, Antigone is the loyal and high-born sister of not just one, but two kings. 

The fatal flaw: Her stubbornness.

What went wrong: Antigone’s brothers die in battle as they fight over the throne left vacant by their father. She obstinately defies the new king’s orders to leave her traitorous brother’s body unburied on the battlefield as a mark of disgrace. 

Where they end up: Her stubborn loyalty is punished brutally, and she is buried alive.

Jay Gatsby (from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby )

Tragic hero - Jay Gatsby

Where they start: Gatsby, a mysterious millionaire, throws lavish parties and is (superficially) popular and well-regarded by Long Island’s social elite.

The fatal flaw: His obsessive and delusional love for his former sweetheart, Daisy.

What went wrong: Gatsby embarks on an obsessive campaign to win over the now-married Daisy Buchanan. Initially tempted, Daisy ultimately leaves the overbearing Gatsby, returning to her (equally overbearing) husband. His obsessive behaviour not only pushes Daisy away, but invokes the ire of her husband. 

Where they end up: Gatsby refuses to give up hope, but a convoluted case of mistaken identity (and the spite of Daisy’s husband) leads to Gatsby’s lonely death at the hands of a man he’s never met.

Macbeth (from Shakespeare’s Macbeth)

Where they start: Macbeth is a brave and loyal general serving under King Duncan.

The fatal flaw: His ambition.

What went wrong: After learning (by way of prophecy) that he will one day be king, Macbeth is gripped by an urge to claim his crown sooner rather than later. He commits regicide, killing his friend King Duncan, and his growing paranoia leads him to murder several others to cover up the betrayal. 

Where they end up: Eventually, his crimes catch up to him and his wife: Lady Macbeth dies by suicide as a result of her own guilt, while Macbeth is killed by the avenging hero Macduff.

Emma Bovary (from Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary)

Tragic hero - image of Madame Bovary

Where they start: Emma is married to a well-meaning, if somewhat naive, young man.

The fatal flaw: Her desire for romance and luxury.

What went wrong: Having grown bored with her slow married life, Emma seeks excitement elsewhere. She indulges in love affairs and a new-found extravagant lifestyle, which eventually leaves her in debt. 

Where they end up: When those debts begin to be called in, Emma realizes she has nobody to turn to; even her lovers will not help her and, in a fit of despair, she ends her own life.

Okonkwo (from Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart)

Where they start: Okonkwo is a famous wrestler, a powerful warrior, and the leader of his village. He has the power and influence he craves over his community.

The fatal flaw: His fear of appearing weak and ending up like his father.

What went wrong : When an Oracle proclaims Okonkwo’s adoptive son should be killed, the elders advise him not to participate in the killing himself. However, Okonkwo’s obsession with masculinity and fear of being perceived by his fellow mean as weak leads him to take part in the murder. Having offended the gods and spiralling into guilt, Okonkwo accidentally takes more lives, and is sent into exile. 

Where they end up: After suffering several more years of hardship as a result of his choice, Okonkwo eventually kills himself to avoid any further humiliation, a final enactment of his all-consuming pride.

Eddard Stark (from George R. R. Martin’s A Game of Thrones )

Tragic hero - Eddard Stark

Where they start: Eddard (Ned) is the respected Lord of Winterfell, a loyal friend of the king, and a loving husband and father. 

The fatal flaw: His obsession with honor, and failure to adapt.

What went wrong: Ned’s innate sense of right and wrong causes him to make several missteps as he navigates the court of his friend Robert. After falling foul of the king’s duplicitous wife, Cersei, and threatening to expose her children as illegitimate, his desire to do right by his friend and bring the betrayal to light puts him in a precarious position. 

Where they end up: His refusal to give up his principles and adapt to the times lead to his execution after King Robert dies, leaving nobody to protect Ned from Cersei. 

Elena Richardson (from Celeste Ng’s Little Fires Everywhere )

Where they start: Mrs Richardson starts the novel with a picture-perfect life: she’s wealthy, successful, and has every aspect of her life in meticulous order.

The fatal flaw: Her desire to maintain the status quo.

What went wrong: Threatened by the arrival of a new family in the area that her kids befriend, Elena becomes consumed with jealousy, leading her down a dark path of suspicion and blackmail. Her need to follow the rules to the letter, to keep things just as they are, and her attempts to keep her children close eventually have the opposite effect, as her behavior drives them further from her. 

Where they end up: The novel ends with Elena’s worst fear realized as her youngest daughter, Izzy, sets the family home alight and runs away.

You might be feeling a little down in the dumps after hearing all these tragic fates — but fear not! Unlike our tragic heroes, this crash course in tragedy does have a happy ending, because we’ve got even more resources to recommend. 

You can check out our guide to Freytag’s pyramid , a dramatic structure designed with tragedy in mind, for more insight into how to write a great tragic arc!

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how to start a tragic hero essay

Tragic Hero

how to start a tragic hero essay

Tragic Hero Definition

What is a tragic hero? Here’s a quick and simple definition:

A tragic hero is a type of character in a tragedy , and is usually the protagonist . Tragic heroes typically have heroic traits that earn them the sympathy of the audience, but also have flaws or make mistakes that ultimately lead to their own downfall. In Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet , Romeo is a tragic hero. His reckless passion in love, which makes him a compelling character, also leads directly to the tragedy of his death.

Some additional key details about tragic heroes:

  • The idea of the tragic hero was first defined by the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle based on his study of Greek drama.
  • Despite the term "tragic hero," it's sometimes the case that tragic heroes are not really heroes at all in the typical sense—and in a few cases, antagonists may even be described as tragic heroes.

Tragic Hero Pronunciation

Here's how to pronounce tragic hero: tra -jik hee -roh

The Evolution of the Tragic Hero

Tragic heroes are the key ingredient that make tragedies, well, tragic. That said, the idea of the characteristics that make a tragic hero have changed over time.

Aristotle and the Tragic Hero

The ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle was the first to define a "tragic hero." He believed that a good tragedy must evoke feelings of fear and pity in the audience, since he saw these two emotions as being fundamental to the experience of catharsis (the process of releasing strong or pent-up emotions through art). As Aristotle puts it, when the tragic hero meets his demise, "pity is aroused by unmerited misfortune, fear by the misfortune of a man like ourselves."

Aristotle strictly defined the characteristics that a tragic hero must have in order to evoke these feelings in an audience. According to Aristotle, a tragic hero must:

  • Be virtuous: In Aristotle's time, this meant that the character should be a noble. It also meant that the character should be both capable and powerful (i.e. "heroic"), and also feel responsible to the rules of honor and morality that guided Greek culture. These traits make the hero attractive and compelling, and gain the audience's sympathy.
  • Be flawed: While being heroic, the character must also have a tragic flaw (also called hamartia ) or more generally be subject to human error, and the flaw must lead to the character's downfall. On the one hand, these flaws make the character "relatable," someone with whom the audience can identify. Just as important, the tragic flaw makes the tragedy more powerful because it means that the source of the tragedy is internal to the character, not merely some outside force. In the most successful tragedies, the tragic hero's flaw is not just a characteristic they have in addition to their heroic qualities, but one that emerges from their heroic qualities—for instance, a righteous quest for justice or truth that leads to terrible conclusions, or hubris (the arrogance that often accompanies greatness). In such cases, it is as if the character is fated to destruction by his or her own nature.
  • Suffer a reversal of fortune: The character should suffer a terrible reversal of fortune, from good to bad. Such a reversal does not merely mean a loss of money or status. It means that the work should end with the character dead or in immense suffering, and to a degree that outweighs what it seems like the character deserved.

To sum up: Aristotle defined a tragic hero rather strictly as a man of noble birth with heroic qualities whose fortunes change due to a tragic flaw or mistake (often emerging from the character's own heroic qualities) that ultimately brings about the tragic hero's terrible, excessive downfall.

The Modern Tragic Hero

Over time, the definition of a tragic hero has relaxed considerably. It can now include

  • Characters of all genders and class backgrounds. Tragic heroes no longer have to be only nobles, or only men.
  • Characters who don't fit the conventional definition of a hero. This might mean that a tragic hero could be regular person who lacks typical heroic qualities, or perhaps even a villainous or or semi-villainous person.

Nevertheless, the essence of a tragic hero in modern times maintains two key aspects from Aristotle's day:

  • The tragic hero must have the sympathy of the audience.
  • The tragic hero must, despite their best efforts or intentions, come to ruin because of some tragic flaw in their own character.

Tragic Hero, Antihero, and Byronic Hero

There are two terms that are often confused with tragic hero: antihero and Byronic hero.

  • Antihero : An antihero is a protagonist who lacks many of the conventional qualities associated with heroes, such as courage, honesty, and integrity, but still has the audience's sympathy. An antihero may do the right thing for the wrong reason. Clint Eastwood's character in the western film, The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly , is fundamentally selfish. He digs up graves to look for gold and kills anyone who gets in his way, so he's definitely a bad guy. But as an antihero, he's not completely rotten: he also shows a little sympathy for dying soldiers in the bloody war going on around him, and at the end of the film he acts mercifully in choosing not to kill a man who previously tried to kill him. He does a few good things, but only as long as it suits him—so he's a classic antihero.
  • Byronic hero : A Byronic hero is a variant of the antihero. Named after the characters in the poetry of Lord Byron, the Byronic hero is usually a man who is an intelligent, emotionally sensitive, introspective, and cynical character. While Byronic heroes tend to be very charismatic, they're deeply flawed individuals, who might do things that are generally thought of as socially unacceptable because they are at odds with mainstream society. A Byronic hero has his own set of beliefs and will not yield for anyone. While it might not be initially apparent, deep down, the Byronic hero is also quite selfish.

According to the modern conception of a tragic hero, both an antihero and a Byronic hero could also be tragic heroes. But in order for a tragic hero to exist, he or she has to be part of a tragedy with a story that ends in death or ruin. Antiheroes and Byronic heroes can exist in all sorts of different genres, however, not just tragedies. An antihero in an action movie—for instance Deadpool, in the first Deadpool movie—is not a tragic hero because his story ends generally happily. But you could argue that Macbeth is a kind of antihero (or at least an initial hero who over time becomes an antihero), and he is very definitely also a tragic hero.

Tragic Hero Examples

Tragic heroes in drama.

The tragic hero originated in ancient Greek theater, and can still be seen in contemporary tragedies. Even though the definition has expanded since Aristotle first defined the archetype, the tragic hero's defining characteristics have remained—for example, eliciting sympathy from the audience, and bringing about their own downfall.

Oedipus as Tragic Hero in Oedipus Rex

The most common tragic flaw (or hamartia ) for a tragic hero to have is hubris , or excessive pride and self-confidence. Sophocles' tragic play Oedipus Rex contains what is perhaps the most well-known example of Aristotle's definition of the tragic hero—and it's also a good example of hubris. The play centers around King Oedipus, who seeks to rid the city he leads of a terrible plague. At the start of the play, Oedipus is told by a prophet that the only way to banish the plague is to punish the man who killed the previous king, Laius. But the same prophet also reports that Oedipus has murdered his own father and married his mother. Oedipus refuses to believe the second half of the prophecy—the part pertaining to him—but nonetheless sets out to find and punish Laius's murderer. Eventually, Oedipus discovers that Laius had been his father, and that he had, in fact, unwittingly killed him years earlier, and that the fateful event had led directly to him marrying his own mother. Consequently, Oedipus learns that he himself is the cause of the plague, and upon realizing all this he gouges his eyes out in misery (his wife/mother also kills herself).

Oedipus has all the important features of a classical tragic hero. Throughout the drama, he tries to do what is right and just, but because of his tragic flaw (hubris) he believes he can avoid the fate given to him by the prophet, and as a result he brings about his own downfall.

Willy Loman as Tragic Hero in Death of a Salesman

Arthur Miller wrote his play Death of a Salesman with the intent of creating a tragedy about a man who was not a noble or powerful man, but rather a regular working person, a salesman.

The protagonist of Death of a Salesman, Willy Loman, desperately tries to provide for his family and maintain his pride. Willy has high expectations for himself and for his children. He wants the American Dream, which for him means financial prosperity, happiness, and good social standing. Yet as he ages he finds himself having to struggle to hold onto the traveling salesman job at the company to which he has devoted himself for decades. Meanwhile, the prospects for his sons, Biff and Happy, who seemed in high school to have held such promise, have similarly fizzled. Willy cannot let go of his idea of the American Dream nor his connected belief that he must as an American man be a good provider for his family. Ultimately, this leads him to see himself as more valuable dead than alive, and he commits suicide so his family can get the insurance money.

Willy is a modern tragic hero. He's a good person who means well, but he's also deeply flawed, and his obsession with a certain idea of success, as well as his determination to provide for his family, ultimately lead to his tragic death.

Tragic Heroes in Literature

Tragic heroes appear all over important literary works. With time, Aristotle's strict definition for what makes a tragic hero has changed, but the tragic hero's fundamental ability to elicit sympathy from an audience has remained.

Jay Gatsby as Tragic Hero in The Great Gatsby

The protagonist of F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby , is Jay Gatsby, a young and mysterious millionaire who longs to reunite with a woman whom he loved when he was a young man before leaving to fight in World War I. This woman, Daisy, is married, however, to a man named Tom Buchanan from a wealthy old money family. Gatsby organizes his entire life around regaining Daisy: he makes himself rich (through dubious means), he rents a house directly across a bay from hers, he throws lavish parties in the hopes that she will come. The two finally meet again and do begin an affair, but the affair ends in disaster—with Gatsby taking responsibility for driving a car that Daisy was in fact driving when she accidentally hit and killed Tom's mistress (named Myrtle), Daisy abandoning Gatsby and returning to Tom, and Gatsby getting killed by Myrtle's husband.

Gatsby's downfall is his unrelenting pursuit of a certain ideal—the American Dream—and a specific woman who he thinks fits within this dream. His blind determination makes him unable to see both that Daisy doesn't fit the ideal and that the ideal itself is unachievable. As a result he endangers himself to protect someone who likely wouldn't do the same in return. Gatsby is not a conventional hero (it's strongly implied that he made his money through gambling and other underworld activities), but for the most part his intentions are noble: he seeks love and self-fulfillment, and he doesn't intend to hurt anyone. So, Gatsby would be a modernized version of Aristotle's tragic hero—he still elicits the audience's sympathy—even if he is a slightly more flawed version of the archetype.

Javert as Tragic Hero in Victor Hugo's Les Misérables

Javert is a police detective, obsessed with law and order, and Les Misérables' primary antagonist. The novel contains various subplots but for the most part follows a character named Jean Valjean, a good and moral person who cannot escape his past as an ex-convict. (He originally goes to prison for stealing a loaf of bread to help feed his sister's seven children.) After Valjean escapes from prison, he changes his name and ends up leading a moral and prosperous life, becoming well-known for the ways in which he helps the poor.

Javert, known for his absolute respect for authority and the law, spends many years trying to find the escaped convict and return him to prison. After Javert's lifelong pursuit leads him to Valjean, though, Valjean ends up saving Javert's life. Javert, in turn, finds himself unable to arrest the man who showed him such mercy, but also cannot give up his devotion to justice and the law. In despair, he commits suicide. In other words: Javert's strength and righteous morality lead him to his destruction.

While Javert fits the model of a tragic hero in many ways, he's an unconventional tragic hero because he's an antagonist rather than the protagonist of the novel (Valjean is the protagonist). One might then argue that Javert is a "tragic figure" or "tragic character" rather than a "tragic hero" because he's not actually the "hero" of the novel at all. He's a useful example, though, because he shows just how flexible the idea of a "tragic hero" can be, and how writers play with those ideas to create new sorts of characters.

Additional Examples of Tragic Heroes

  • Macbeth: In Shakespeare's Macbeth , the main character Macbeth allows his (and his wife's) ambition to push him to murder his king in order to fulfill a prophecy and become king himself. Macbeth commits his murder early in the play, and from then on his actions become bloodier and bloodier, and he becomes more a villain than a hero. Nonetheless, he ends in death, with his wife also dead, and fully realizing the emptiness of his life. Macbeth is a tragic hero, but the play is interesting in that his fatal flaw or mistake occurs relatively early in the play, and the rest of the play shows his decline into tragedy even as he initially seems to get what he seeks (the throne).
  • Michael Corleone: The main character of the Godfather films, Michael Corleone can be said to experience a tragic arc over the course of the three Godfather movies. Ambition and family loyalty push him to take over his mafia family when he had originally been molded by his father to instead "go clean." Michael's devotion to his family then leads him to murder his enemies, kills his betraying brother, and indirectly leads to the deaths of essentially all of his loved ones. He dies, alone, thinking of his lost loves , a tragic antihero.
  • Okonkwo: In Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart , Okonkwo is a man of great strength and will, and these heroic traits make him powerful and wealthy in his tribe. But his devotion to always appearing strong and powerful also lead him to alienate his son, break tribal tradition in a way that leads to his exile from the tribe, and to directly confront white missionaries in a way that ultimately leads him to commit suicide. Okonkwo's devotion to strength and power leads to his own destruction.
  • Anakin Skywalker: The three prequel Star Wars movies (episodes I, II, and III) can be seen as an attempt to frame Anakin Skywalker into a tragic hero. Anakin is both powerful in the force and a prophesied "chosen one," but his ambition and desire for order and control lead him to abandon and kill fellow Jedi, inadvertently kill his own wife, and to join the dark side of the force and become a kind of enforcer for the Emperor. Anakin, as Darth Vader, is alone and full of such shame and self-hatred that he can see no other option but to continue on his path of evil. This makes him a tragic hero. Having said all that, some would argue that the first three Star Wars movies aren't well written or well acted enough to truly make Anakin a tragic hero (does Anakin really ever have the audience's sympathy given his bratty whininess?), but it's clear that he was meant to be a tragic hero.

What's the Function of a Tragic Hero in Literature?

Above all, tragic heroes put the tragedy in tragedies—it is the tragic hero's downfall that emotionally engages the audience or reader and invokes their pity and fear. Writers therefore use tragic heroes for many of the same reasons they write tragedies—to illustrate a moral conundrum with depth, emotion, and complexity.

Besides this, tragic heroes serve many functions in the stories in which they appear. Their tragic flaws make them more relatable to an audience, especially as compared to a more conventional hero, who might appear too perfect to actually resemble real people or draw an emotional response from the audience. Aristotle believed that by watching a tragic hero's downfall, an audience would become wiser when making choices in their own lives. Furthermore, tragic heroes can illustrate moral ambiguity, since a seemingly desirable trait (such as innocence or ambition) can suddenly become a character's greatest weakness, bringing about grave misfortune or even death.

Other Helpful Tragic Hero Resources

  • The Wikipedia Page for Tragic Hero : A helpful overview that mostly focuses on the history of term.
  • The Dictionary Definition of Tragic Hero : A brief and basic definition.
  • A one-minute, animated explanation of the tragic hero.
  • Is Macbeth a Tragic Hero? This video explains what a tragic hero is, using Macbeth as an example .

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Tragic Hero

Definition of tragic hero.

Tragic hero is a literary device utilized to create a protagonist for a tragic work of literature. A tragic hero is a character that represents the consequences that come from possessing one or more personal flaws or being doomed by a particular fate. Traditionally, the purpose of tragic hero as a literary device is to evoke pity and/or fear in an audience through the protagonist’s flaw and consequential downfall.

Aristotle categorized the characteristics of classic tragic hero in Greek drama as, in general, a male character of noble birth who experiences a reversal of fortune due to a tragic flaw . In addition, the realization of this flaw evokes sympathy from an audience. For example, Oedipus Rex, the title character of Sophocles’ tragedy , is considered a classic tragic hero. Oedipus experiences a terrible downfall due to hubris as his tragic flaw. As a result, the audience is left to sympathize with his tragic fate.

Familiar or Well-Known Examples of Tragic Hero

In contemporary society, examples of tragic heroes are often found among politicians, celebrities, athletes, and other famous public figures. Of course, actual people are far more complex in their motives and experiences than literary characters. Therefore, they can’t literally be considered tragic heroes. However, what we know of their stories can be similar to that of a modern tragic hero. Here are some examples:

  • Lori Loughlin (“Aunt Becky”)
  • Anthony Weiner
  • Lance Armstrong
  • Michael Richards
  • Richard Nixon
  • Michael Vick
  • Tonya Harding
  • Woody Allen
  • Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker
  • Paul Reubens (“Pee Wee Herman”)
  • Martha Stewart
  • Jimmy Swaggart
  • Tiger Woods
  • J.K. Rowling
  • Roseanne Barr
  • Charlie Sheen
  • Lindsay Lohan

Classic Examples of Tragic Hero in Shakespeare

William Shakespeare made great use of tragic hero as a literary device in his Shakespearean tragedies. Shakespeare’s tragic heroes demonstrate the presence of fatal flaws within the powerful. Yet, the protagonists in his tragedies often experience moments of realization or redemption that result in compassion from the audience. Here are some classic examples of Shakespearean tragic heroes:

  • Romeo Montague
  • Richard III

Modern Examples of Tragic Hero in Fiction

The modern usage of tragic hero as a literary device has evolved from the classical characteristics established by Aristotle. For example, most modern tragic heroes are not limited by class or background, and they are not exclusively male protagonists. Here are some modern examples of tragic hero in works of fiction :

  • Scarlett O’Hara ( Gone with the Wind )
  • Don Draper ( Mad Men )
  • Captain Ahab ( moby dick )
  • Detective Sergeant Alonzo Harris ( Training Day )
  • Kurtz ( Heart of Darkness )
  • Blanche DuBois ( A Streetcar Named Desire )
  • Andy Dufresne ( Shawshank Redemption )
  • Bigger Thomas ( Native Son )
  • Emma Bovary ( Madame Bovary )
  • Jay Gatsby ( The Great Gatsby )

Difference Between Tragic Hero and Anti-Hero

It can be difficult to distinguish between tragic hero and anti-hero in literary works. Essentially, for a character to be a tragic hero, they must have some initial virtue that makes them powerful, charismatic, or heroic in the minds of the audience. In addition, tragic heroes must possess some sort of tragic flaw as part of their internal make-up or nature that makes them at least partially responsible for their own destruction. Finally, a tragic hero should suffer a reversal of fortune from good to bad, often leading to death or punishment that appears to be greater than deserved. As a result, these elements work together to generate a sympathetic response from the audience for tragic heroes.

An anti-hero is also a protagonist in fiction. However, unlike a tragic hero, an anti-hero is lacking in virtues associated with heroism. The anti-hero may be deficient in characteristics such as courage or integrity. However, as a character, the anti-hero still has an audience’s sympathy. Though anti-heroes may do good things for wrong reasons, they are fundamentally flawed and their actions serve only themselves. Therefore, their downfall is deserved and due entirely to their choices and devices.

Writing Tragic Hero

Overall, as a literary device, the tragic hero functions as the main character or protagonist of a tragedy. The characteristics of the tragic hero have evolved since Aristotle’s time in the sense that they are not limited to nobility or the male gender. In addition, a modern tragic hero may not necessarily possess typical or conventional heroic qualities. They may even be somewhat villainous in nature.

However, all tragic heroes must have sympathy from the audience for their circumstances. Additionally, all tragic heroes must experience a downfall leading to some form of ruin as a result of a tragic flaw in their character.

Here are some ways that writers carefully incorporate tragic hero into their work:

Hamartia , sometimes known as tragic flaw, is a fault or failing withing a character that leads to their downfall. For example, hubris is a common tragic flaw in that its nature is excessive pride and even defiance of the gods in Greek tragedy. Overall, a tragic hero must possess hamartia .

Peripeteia refers to a sudden turning point , as in a reversal of fortune or negative change of circumstances. Therefore, a tragic hero must experience peripeteia for their downfall.

Catharsis is the necessary pity and fear that the audience feels for tragic heroes and their inescapable fate. As a result, this sympathetic feeling indicates a purge of pent-up emotions in the audience, released through the journey of tragic heroes.

Examples of Tragic Hero in Literature

Many great works of literature feature tragic hero as a literary device. Here are some examples of tragic hero in literature:

Example 1: Hester Prynne ( The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne)

She had wandered, without rule or guidance, into a moral wilderness … Her intellect and heart had their home, as it were, in desert places, where she roamed as freely as the wild Indian in his woods… The scarlet letter was her passport into regions where other women dared not tread. Shame, Despair, Solitude! These had been her teachers—stern and wild ones—and they had made her strong, but taught her much amiss.

This passage from Hawthorne’s novel indicates the hamartia and peripeteia experienced by the protagonist Hester Prynne. Hester Prynne has been convicted of adultery in a Puritan community . She remains loyal to her lover by refusing to reveal the paternity of her daughter Pearl. This results in Hester’s isolation from society and a punishment of wearing a scarlet “A” on her chest, indicating her crime and shame.

Hester Prynne is a tragic heroine due to her tragic flaw of fidelity outside her marriage to a weak man who doesn’t grant her the same sense of loyalty. For this, she suffers a consequential reversal of circumstances through imprisonment and public ridicule. Additionally, she is a tragic heroine in that her journey as a protagonist generates catharsis in readers. As Hawthorne’s novel progresses, readers feel both pity and fear for Hester. By the novel’s end, reader sympathy for her character results in a release of pent-up sadness and despair, mirroring Hester’s own experience.

Example 2: Victor Frankenstein ( Frankenstein by Mary Shelley)

It was the secrets of heaven and earth that I desired to learn; and whether it was the outward substance of things or the inner spirit of nature and the mysterious soul of man that occupied me, still my inquiries were directed to the metaphysical , or in its highest sense, the physical secrets of the world.

Victor Frankenstein is the tragic hero of Mary Shelley ’s novel. Frankenstein’s statements regarding learning the physical secrets of the world demonstrate his character’s hamartia in the form of hubris. Frankenstein succumbs to blind ambition, believing that he can conquer death with science. Therefore, by recklessly playing the role of creator and ignoring natural order, Frankenstein feels he has unlocked the mysteries of nature and defeated death. This results in over-confidence and pride to the point that Frankenstein does not believe his actions will have detrimental consequences. However, he only believes this until the “monster” begins killing people.

The audience is witness to this hubris as Frankenstein’s tragic flaw. Therefore, because of this hubris, Frankenstein’s fate is tied to the monster and his promising life and career are ruined. His downfall is clear in the novel, yet the audience retains their pity for this tragic hero.

Example 3: Othello ( Othello by William Shakespeare)

When you shall these unlucky deeds relate, Speak of me as I am . Nothing extenuate, Nor set down aught in malice. Then must you speak Of one that loved not wisely, but too well. Of one not easily jealous, but being wrought, Perplexed in the extreme. Of one whose hand, Like the base Indian, threw a pearl away Richer than all his tribe

Related posts:

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  • 10 Hero Archetypes with Examples  
  • Anti-Hero Archetype

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How to Write a Tragedy like John Green

Kathy Edens

Kathy Edens

How to Write Tragedy Like John Green

If you haven’t read The Fault in Our Stars by John Green, don’t read this article any further. Go to your nearest library or bookstore and pick up a copy. Never has there been a novel with such heart-stopping understanding that tragedy waits at the end like The Fault in Our Stars.

At our earliest introduction to tragedy (mostly in the form of Shakespeare), we learn a tragedy is a play where everyone dies at the end. As we grow as readers and writers, we realize there’s more involved than this simple formula.

As writers, we want to make sure our readers are happy with our tale's ending, so we turn away from tragedies. But that doesn’t mean you can’t use a tragic hero in your story to juxtapose your protagonist.

What is a tragic hero?

How to write a tragic hero per aristotle, final thoughts.

We turn to the man who started it all, Aristotle. He studied Greek tragedies and defined the following characteristics of a tragic hero. We’ll try to explain Aristotle’s fancy words in more modern English:

A fancy word that means the hero is a little full of him- or herself .

2. Hamartia

Another Greek word that means a flaw causing the hero’s downfall .

3. Peripeteia

Aristotle’s word meaning the tragic hero experiences a reversal of fate .

4. Anagnorisis

Aristotle describes this part of the tragedy as the hero discovering something important in the story .

You may be more familiar with this thought: a tragic hero should have a nemesis, or some kind of punishment he or she can’t avoid .

6. Catharsis

Another more familiar word: this means your story evokes strong feelings of pity by the downfall/tragic end of the hero.

If you’ve read The Fault in Our Stars , you know Augustus Waters is a classic tragic hero. Readers fall in love with his intelligence and humor and his obvious love for Hazel, the protagonist. And all along, we think Hazel will be the one to die at the end because the focus is on her spreading thyroid cancer. Besides, we learn that Augustus is cancer free thanks to his leg amputation.

In today’s modern tragedies, characters don’t have to fit Aristotle’s definition of a hero perfectly. But your tragic hero must have your readers’ sympathy and he/she must come to ruin, despite their best efforts.

Aristotle studied Greek tragedies and concluded that a great tragedy must have a great plot. Here’s how to write a great tragic hero based on Aristotle’s scientific analysis of hundreds of tragic plays.

Start with the action

Since plot is most important, show, don’t tell. Show your hero and his or her actions that tie up an intricate little knot that comes unraveled at the climax. This means you can’t throw in a lot of coincidental or chance happenings. You must show purpose and unexpected, but logical, consequences.

Analyze your plot. Is there any action you could remove without affecting the tragic ending? Aristotle would tell you to remove it if it’s not essential to the denouement.

Include intense suffering

Aristotle believed all great tragedies included at least one scene of major suffering. This could be the climax of your story, but it should be essential to the plot regardless of where it occurs.

Your tragic hero must suffer devastation. In The Fault in Our Stars, Hazel thinks she is like a grenade. She feels her death will implode her family and those she cares about. She doesn’t want to cause intense suffering, and she worries constantly about hurting them by dying.

When Augustus tells her about the return of his cancer and its prodigious spreading, she realizes he is the true grenade. His death will hurt so many, especially her.

Include moments of reversal and recognition

Reversal means a moment in your story that goes from good to bad or vice versa. And recognition is when your protagonist realizes something important about the tragic hero that changes the way they understand the hero. A great example of this is the Harry Potter series and Severus Snape. No spoilers here; just read the series and tell us if you saw that one coming.

Both reversal and recognition must surprise. They can work together in a single scene, or the reversal can lead to the recognition that results in the climax which might be your final scene of major suffering. You can intertwine it all, which leads to the next point.

Offer your readers release

Hopefully by this point, emotions are riding high. You must offer your readers catharsis or "cleansing." Aristotle said:

  • "Tragedy is an imitation of an action that is serious, complete, and of a certain magnitude; … through pity and fear effecting the proper [catharsis] of these emotions."

Your readers should gain clarification at the end. They should understand how the tragedy logically ended where it did and how events led to such a conclusion. It should open their minds to an intellectual clarification that everything is "as it should be." Hard to explain, but easy to recognize. Read The Fault in Our Stars , The Great Gatsby , and any of Shakespeare’s great tragedies for examples of an evocative catharsis at its conclusion. Yes, it’s a tragic end, but it should all make sense.

Study tragic plot structures. Learn how the masters created tragedies full of horrible scenes that eventually resolved the tension. A tragedy can’t end without everyone’s lives changing somehow. And a great tragic hero usually loses his life.

Augustus is prophetic. He explains to Hazel that getting hurt is part of life, but you get to choose who you let hurt you. And Hazel realizes that she’s glad she let herself get hurt by "Gus"—in fact, she likes her choice.

how to start a tragic hero essay

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Kathy Edens is a blogger, a ghost writer, and content master who loves writing about anything and everything. Check out her books The Novel-Writing Training Plan: 17 Steps to Get Your Ideas in Shape for the Marathon of Writing and Creating Legends: How to Craft Characters Readers Adore... or Despise.

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How to Write a Tragedy

Last Updated: May 7, 2024 References

This article was co-authored by Michelle Golden, PhD . Michelle Golden is an English teacher in Athens, Georgia. She received her MA in Language Arts Teacher Education in 2008 and received her PhD in English from Georgia State University in 2015. There are 16 references cited in this article, which can be found at the bottom of the page. This article has been viewed 90,267 times.

Tragedy is a work of drama that involves some type of human suffering as its central premise. There are many types of tragedy, ranging from Greek tragedy to Elizabethan tragedy, and all the way through to contemporary dramatic fiction and theater. Most true tragedies show the audience a great hero's downfall, either caused by his own actions/inactions or by forces beyond his control. [1] X Research source Tragedies were meant to purge the audience of the negative emotions that build up inside of us through a cathartic release of those feelings. Studying classic tragedies and learning the finer points of writing fiction can help you write your own great tragic play or novel.

Studying Tragedy

Step 1 Read classic tragedies.

  • Greek tragedies tended to address a single topic and its plot, while English tragedies (including the works of Shakespeare) usually have multiple storylines that are tied together through shared loss and suffering. [2] X Research source
  • For a comprehensive collection of tragic works, consult your library, or search online. Many scholars and literary critics publish their own listings of what they consider the most important/influential works of literature.

Step 2 Learn the basic characters.

  • protagonist - the lead character, who is almost always a tragic hero
  • antagonist - any person or thing against which the protagonist struggles (often a villain, but not always)
  • foils/counterparts - side characters, often associated with the protagonist or antagonist, who reveal or complicate some key aspect(s) of the main characters
  • stock characters - often used to exaggerate or expand on some characteristic that arises in the rest of the tragedy
  • narrators/chorus - not necessarily present in every work of tragedy, but an important part of certain works, often used to communicate directly with the audience

Step 3 Analyze the tragic hero figure.

  • The tragic hero must experience some type of downfall (known as the "hamartia," or "tragic error"), often as a result of that character's hubris (often thought of as pride, though it also includes overstepping one's cultural/ethical limitations).
  • The tragic hero usually experiences some sort of insight or recognition of his tragic fate (called the "anagnorisis"). At this point he knows that there is no going back, and that he must let the tragic fate before him play out.
  • Above all else, the tragic hero should be pitiable. This is because he is destined to experience a downfall, and an audience would cheer or feel a sense of relief when a villain experiences misfortune. The true tragedy of a tragic work is that anyone could experience the sort of suffering that happens to the hero, and his downfall should purge the negative emotions of the audience.

Step 4 Study the tragic plot structure.

  • exposition - the essential "background" information, which may be delivered all at once in the beginning of the play or throughout the dramatic piece via dialogue and/or soliloquies
  • conflict - the tension that arises as a result of some conflict, usually between either character vs. self, character vs. character, character vs. environment, character vs. natural forces, or character vs. group
  • climax - the point in the play in which tension cannon be reversed and events must turn towards one of two outcomes
  • resolution/denouement - the unraveling or release of tension, often through the death of one or more characters in the play

Step 5 Understand the types of plot.

  • climactic - tension builds toward a single point (climax) before the resolution, usually through a linear structure comprised of causal actions
  • episodic - often composed of numerous short, fragmented scenes involving many characters and numerous threads of action to highlight various aspects of humanity
  • non-sequitur - inconsistent events involving existential, often under-developed characters engaged in something relatively meaningless, meant to highlight the absurdity of existence

Developing a Plot

Step 1 Choose a mode of storytelling.

  • Which mode of storytelling you choose will depend on both your areas of strength/comfort as a writer and the nature of the story you'll be telling.
  • If you're equally experienced (or equally inexperienced) in both fiction and drama, try to choose a mode that fits your desired story. It may be easier to devise a storyline first without imposing the format of a play or a novel on your idea.

Step 2 Come up with a story.

  • If you are basing your tragedy on an existing myth, you'll be somewhat bound to the events of that myth, and will not be able to significantly deviate from the main plot points within that myth without your audience losing interest. You may, however, be able to radically reinterpret a myth whose outcome is vague or ambiguous. [11] X Research source
  • Alternately, you may wish to create your own storyline from scratch, in which case you will not be bound by any canonical characters or events.
  • Choose a plot that will help you tell the story you feel compelled to write. Don't think of the plot as a restriction. Instead, think of it as a lens through which you can write about some struggle or aspect of humanity.

Step 3 Outline your plot...

  • motivation - why the protagonist and antagonist do what they do in the story
  • basic structure - the overall events that make up your story, and the sequence in which those events occur and/or initiate other events that will take place
  • outcome - what will ultimately happen to resolve your story
  • subplots - any sub-story lines you'd like to complicate your story or further challenge your characters

Step 4 Create characters...

  • Think about what kinds of characters would fill the roles created by your story.
  • Consider the relationships between each character. If they interact at all, or have any kind of knowledge of one another, they should have a clear and unambiguous relationship with one another. Common relationships typically fall into romantic, parent/child, sibling, friends, aggressor/victim, rival/adversary, boss/employee, or caregiver/receiver dynamics. [13] X Research source
  • Remember to include a tragic hero. At this point you should decide what his general downfall will be, and what choices he will make that will lead him to his fate. [14] X Research source
  • Consider making the characters question themselves, others, or their relationships with one another. You may also want to give them strong opinions, and use those opinions to further develop each character's personality and role. [15] X Research source
  • Your characters should be realistic and human enough to be likable and relatable, but because you're writing a tragedy, you may want to make one or more of the characters somehow superior to humans. This can take the shape of exceptional heroism, great wealth/power, or it could mean that one or more characters are actually super-human (gods/goddesses, magicians, etc.). [16] X Research source

Writing Your Own Tragedy

Step 1 Flesh out the...

  • Focus on the details. Details are what bring a story to life, but you also have to be careful not to weigh down your story with useless trivialities. When in doubt, think of the Chekhov's Gun principle: if you're going to include something (like placing a gun on stage), it must be relevant (for example, the aforementioned gun must be used in some significant way). [17] X Research source
  • Make things more complex. That could mean simply adding some type of plot twist, but a more effective way to complicate the story would be to develop something really interesting and compelling about some of the main characters. That way they become more three-dimensional and in turn more human - remember, no living person is ever as simple as they might appear in a character description. [18] X Research source
  • Think about the ways in which each character changes throughout the course of your tragedy. If any of the main characters emerges unchanged (other than, say, a villain who will never feel remorse for his actions), your tragedy is not developed enough. [19] X Research source
  • Let your characters be emotional. Don't make them unrealistically emotional, but ensure that as they suffer on the page, their suffering is apparent and acknowledged by the audience.

Step 2 Develop the tragic hero's downfall.

  • If the hero's tragedy involves revenge, the reader/audience should understand the reasons for that revenge from the first few scenes or chapters. For example, in Shakespeare's great tragedy Hamlet , the audience is introduced to the ghost of King Hamlet in Act One, Scene One, and knows that his death will be a significant aspect of the play that follows.
  • All of the important characters who are relevant to the hero and his downfall should be introduced fairly early on in the tragedy. The play/novel should begin by giving expository information or contextual clues to explain the hero's situation, and should begin setting up the hero's rise to hubris and eventual downfall from the very start.

Step 3 Incorporate simile and/or metaphor.

  • Metaphors are comparisons between two things, while similes compare things using the words "like" or "as". All similes are metaphors, but not all metaphors are similes.
  • An example of a metaphor would be, "Her eyes shine into mine." The reader knows that a character's eyes do not literally emit light, and it's clear the author meant that a character has bright, captivating eyes.
  • An example of a simile would be, "As she cried, her eyes glistened like stars." Again, the reader knows that the character's eyes are not literally similar to a celestial body, but simile and metaphor both lend a poetic quality to the language used in a piece of writing.

Step 4 Create scenes...

  • Every scene should have a basic buildup, action, climax, and resolution/wind down. [22] X Research source

Step 5 Build tension.

  • Tragedies are full of horrible, disastrous events. Make it clear that the upsetting things that happen to your characters are horrible beyond the surface-level shock.

Step 6 Resolve the tension.

  • Let the resolution of tension lead into a natural ending place for the story. The plot will suffer if the story continues for any significant length after the tension has resolved, because there will no longer be any stakes driving the story or affecting the characters.

Step 7 Revise your work

  • Give yourself two to four weeks after finishing the manuscript before you attempt to revise it. It can be difficult to distance yourself from your work after only a few days, and because the story is still fresh in your mind you may overlook certain things that wouldn't make sense to an outside reader.
  • Try doing a read through before you sit down to make any actual changes. Just take notes on any sections that are confusing, underdeveloped, or unnecessary/irrelevant without stopping to revise. Then you can decide how to remedy those issues once you've gotten all the way through the manuscript.
  • As you read and revise, ask yourself whether the story makes sense as a whole, whether the plot is compelling/engaging, whether it flows smoothly or feels choppy, and whether the stakes are high enough for the characters involved to elicit an emotional response from your readers/audience.
  • Think about the impact the final product will have on your readers/audience.
  • Remember that the tragic hero should be a likable character with good, desirable qualities whose demise results from his/her own choices, whether those choices are actions or inactions. Will your hero's downfall ultimately cause the readers/audience to feel pity and fear? If not, you may need to make significant revisions to your manuscript. [25] X Research source

Judy Blume

The revision process is an essential time to elevate your writing. "I'm a rewriter. That's the part I like best...once I have a pile of paper to work with, it's like having the pieces of a puzzle. I just have to put the pieces together to make a picture."

Step 8 Edit at the line-level.

  • Make sure that the way you choose your words and phrase your sentences is precise and meticulous. Cut out any unnecessary words ("filler"), confusing words/terms, and poorly-constructed sentences. [26] X Research source
  • Avoid repeating the same words needlessly. It comes across as sloppy or weak. Instead, find new and interesting ways to say what you're trying to say. [27] X Research source
  • Resolve any run-on sentences and any sentence fragments in your work. These can be confusing for readers/audience members, and may be difficult for actors to speak. [28] X Research source

Community Q&A

Read4ever

  • Consider a co-author if you're not sure how to start or finish your tragedy. Thanks Helpful 0 Not Helpful 0
  • Tragedies are, just as they are called, tragic. A good tragedy will make the audience cry, but achieve catharsis at the end. Everything should be meaningful in some way, and should build towards some significant change for all the characters involved. Thanks Helpful 0 Not Helpful 0
  • If your tragedy is not a success, it's okay. Get many people's opinions before publishing your book, but remember that writing is a gift to the author more than anyone else. Seeing your work before you is the greatest thing you can give yourself, and don't let negative comments take that away from you. Thanks Helpful 0 Not Helpful 0

how to start a tragic hero essay

  • Don't plagiarize! It's immoral, illegal (if you plan to profit from your work), and you can get in serious trouble. Thanks Helpful 6 Not Helpful 1

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  • ↑ https://condor.depaul.edu/dsimpson/tlove/comic-tragic.html
  • ↑ https://literarydevices.net/tragedy/
  • ↑ https://ocw.mit.edu/courses/literature/21l-422-tragedy-fall-2002/syllabus/
  • ↑ https://novaonline.nvcc.edu/eli/spd130et/playchar.htm
  • ↑ https://novaonline.nvcc.edu/eli/spd130et/playplot.htm
  • ↑ https://www.sjsu.edu/faculty/mary.warner/Engl112B_handouts/LfTYA_Chapter_4.pdf
  • ↑ https://novaonline.nvcc.edu/eli/spd130et/sixp-2.htm
  • ↑ https://scholar.lib.vt.edu/ejournals/ElAnt/V2N3/withers.html
  • ↑ https://www.writersworkshop.co.uk/plot2.html
  • ↑ https://www.writersdigest.com/improve-my-writing/8-ways-to-write-better-characters
  • ↑ https://www.writingclasses.com/toolbox/ask-writer/whats-this-business-about-chekhovs-gun
  • ↑ https://www.writersdigest.com/improve-my-writing/rescue-your-story-from-plot-pitfalls
  • ↑ https://www.scribendi.com/advice/goldenrulesforagoodplot.en.html
  • ↑ https://www.usu.edu/markdamen/WritingGuide/06phrase.htm
  • ↑ https://www.usu.edu/markdamen/WritingGuide/07repwrd.htm
  • ↑ https://www.usu.edu/markdamen/WritingGuide/17runon.htm

About This Article

Michelle Golden, PhD

When you’re writing a tragedy, focus on developing the tragic plot arc first. Start by creating the tragic hero, who must have a fatal flaw, like too much pride. Then, decide what their tragic downfall will be, like a villain getting revenge on the hero or even the hero dying. Build the rest of the plot around their fate by creating conflict between the hero and the villain and adding exciting plot twists. If you want to learn more about writing your tragedy, including how to come up with the perfect ending, read on. Did this summary help you? Yes No

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Shakespearean Macbeth as a Tragic Hero Essay

Greek mythology gave birth to the idea of the tragic hero, in which the concepts of the hero play a tremendous role. Aristotelian thought indicates “the tragic effect will be stronger if the hero is ‘better than we are’, in that he is of higher than ordinary moral worth. Such a man is shown as suffering a change in fortune from happiness to misery because of a mistaken act, to which he is led by his hamartia (his ‘effort of judgment’) or, as it is often literally translated, his tragic flaw” (Zarro, 2001).

There are two types of tragic heroes, those that are born into nobility with a tragic flaw inherent in their character who are therefore responsible for their own fate and doomed to make a serious error in judgment and those who have achieved great heights or esteem through hard work who eventually realize they have made a huge mistake causing them to face and accept their tragic death with honor (Zarro, 2001).

Greek tragedy abounds with examples of tragic heroes, as does much of Shakespearean tragedy. “Shakespeare wished to exhibit a more sublime picture – an ambitious but noble hero, yielding to a deep-laid hellish temptation, and in whom all the crimes to which, in order to secure the fruits of his first crime, he is impelled by necessity, cannot altogether eradicate the stamp of native heroism” (Bates, 1906: 36). In many ways, it can be argued that Macbeth of Shakespeare’s play Macbeth, was a tragic hero.

As the play opens, Macbeth’s nobility of spirit is revealed as reports come in to King Duncan regarding his exploits on the battlefield. The first two acts don’t even see Macbeth as he is busy on the battlefield, attempting to defend Duncan’s kingdom from the forces of Macdonwald, a man from the ‘Western Isles.’ Macbeth’s loyalty is shown in the fierceness of the battle being fought as it is reported by the wounded captain in Act I, Scene ii. He tells the king the battle was “As two spent swimmers that do cling together / And choke their art” (I, ii, 8-9), indicating that the two sides were equally matched and Fortune was favoring Macdonwald. “But all’s too weak / For brave Macbeth (well he deserves that name) / Disdaining Fortune, with his brandished steel … unseamed him from the nave to th’ chops” (I, ii, 15-17, 22).

In addition to fighting for his king, Macbeth is quickly and well rewarded for his efforts as King Duncan makes him the new Thane of Cawdor in addition to his already holding the title of Thane of Glamis. “According to Holinshed, Macbeth’s parents were Sinel, Thane of Glamis (whose existence is otherwise unattested) and a daughter of Malcolm II named Doada (again, modern genealogies mention no such person)” (Friedlander, 2005).

In addition to his supposed genealogy and position of rank, Macbeth himself demonstrates nobility of spirit as he considers the idea of assassinating King Duncan in his own home: “He’s here in double trust: / First, as I am his kinsman and his subject, / Strong both against the deed; then, as his hose, / Who should against his murderer shut the door” (I, vii, 12-15). Beyond this, he also knows that Duncan has been a good and fair king and killing him is unjustified.

However, once the idea that he might be king has entered his brain, thanks to the three witches, Macbeth can’t seem to shake it, particularly as his wife continues to press the issue. “One common form of hamartia in Greek tragedies was hubris, that ‘pride’ or overweening self-confidence which leads a protagonist to disregard a divine warning or to violate an important law” (Zarro, 2001).

Although he knows he has no reason to move against his king other than “vaunting ambition, which o’erleaps itself” (I, vii, 25-27), his commitment to his wife and his greed proves overpowering, forcing him to the act. “Lady Macbeth bitches at her husband and ridicules his masculinity in order to make him commit murder. She talks about a smiling baby she once nursed and what it would have been like to smash its brains out – she would prefer this to having a husband who is unwilling to kill in cold blood” (Friedlander, 2005).

Macbeth’s single evil action of killing his king thus commits him to further evil acts. “That same Macbeth, who once as a warrior could spurn at death, now that he dreads the prospect of the life to come, clings with growing anxiety to his earthly existence the more miserable it becomes, and pitilessly removes out of the way whatever to his dark and suspicious mind seems to threaten danger” (Bates, 1906: 37).

When Macbeth willingly participates in murder, this quickly escalates to massacres of perceived enemies and the propagation of lies and deceits as a means of maintaining the perception others have of him. His own deceit of Duncan forces him to consider the possible schemes of Banquo, thus leading him to order murder once again. In avenge himself on Macduff, he orders the massacre of Macduff’s family, and the evil flows on. In this process, he loses his heath and sanity.

Finally, after having made a mistake in judgment causing a fall from his nobility and high moral station, Macbeth is forced to participate in numerous other actions that continually wear away at his nobility and sanity until he is finally, mercifully, killed by a man who was not born of woman. “Macbeth is still found worthy to die the death of a hero on the field of battle. The noble Macduff is allowed the satisfaction of saving his country by punishing with his own hand the tyrant who had murdered his wife and children” (Bates, 1906: 38).

This, again, is something he has brought on himself as it was Macbeth who ordered the murder of Macduff’s entire household once he learned that Macduff had fled the country in search of justice for Duncan’s murder. “Holinshed spends a lot of time on the incident in which Malcolm (who became a popular king) tests Macduff by pretending to be mean when he is really nice” (Friedlander, 2005), thus establishing the difference between a noble man who would lie and cheat his way to the throne and a noble man who would lie and cheat to determine another’s honesty. In the end, though, Macbeth can be seen to be a tragic hero because he started noble, made a terrible decision based upon his own foolish pride egged on by his ambitious wife and finally died a disgraceful death as the result of his actions.

Works Cited

Bates, Alfred (Ed.). “Macbeth: An Analysis of the Play by Shakespeare.” The Drama: Its History, Literature and Influence on Civilization. London: Historical Publishing Company, 1906, Vol. 14: 34-39.

Friedlander, Ed. “Enjoying Macbeth, by William Shakespeare.” Pathguy. (2005). Web.

Shakespeare. “Macbeth.” William Shakespeare: The Complete Works. Alfred Harbage (Ed.). New York: Viking Books, 1969, pp. 1107-1135.

Zarro, Josephine. “More Terms Defined: Aristotelian Definition of Tragedy.” eGallery of Tragic Heroes in Literature and Life. (2001). Teach the Teachers. Web.

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IvyPanda. (2021, August 28). Shakespearean Macbeth as a Tragic Hero. https://ivypanda.com/essays/shakespearean-macbeth-as-a-tragic-hero/

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Oedipus by Sophocles: a Tragic Hero

This essay about Oedipus in Sophocles’ “Oedipus Rex” positions him as the quintessential tragic hero, exploring the themes of human nature, fate, and the quest for truth. Through Oedipus’ story of unintentional self-destruction—fulfilling a prophecy by killing his father and marrying his mother—Sophocles sheds light on the complexities of human existence and the inevitable encounter with destiny. The narrative doesn’t just focus on Oedipus’ downfall but emphasizes his humanity, resilience, and the profound burden of awareness he carries. It underlines the character’s relatability through his flaws, making his tale resonate with the struggles inherent in the human condition. The essay reflects on how Oedipus’ tale is not merely a story of tragedy but a reflection on the courage required to face harrowing truths, making it a timeless piece that explores the essence of being human and the indomitable spirit of the tragic hero.

How it works

In the grand and often bewildering theater of literature, where characters both mighty and meek vie for our attention, the tragic hero holds a special place in our hearts and imaginations. Sophocles’ Oedipus, the beleaguered king of Thebes, is one of those characters who’s hard to forget once you’ve met him. Through the story of “Oedipus Rex,” Sophocles doesn’t just tell us a tale from a bygone era; he holds up a mirror to the human condition, reminding us of our perpetual struggle against the odds.

Oedipus is a man on a mission. Determined to rid Thebes of a devastating plague, he ends up uncovering a web of truths that eventually leads to his own undoing. The prophecy that haunted his cradle—killing his father and marrying his mother—unravels despite his best efforts to dodge destiny. It’s this journey, fraught with good intentions and tragic missteps, that cements Oedipus as the epitome of a tragic hero. His story isn’t just about the pitfalls of fate; it’s a deep dive into the human psyche, our fears, and the lengths we’ll go to for the truth.

But Sophocles’ genius lies not in making us mere spectators of Oedipus’ downfall. Instead, he invites us to walk alongside Oedipus, to feel his determination, his despair, and ultimately, his acceptance of his fate. Oedipus isn’t a hero because he triumphs; he’s a hero because he embodies the resilience of the human spirit in the face of insurmountable odds. His tale doesn’t just tug at our heartstrings; it raises questions about free will, knowledge, and the human capacity for suffering and redemption.

What makes Oedipus stand out in the crowded arena of tragic heroes isn’t just his tragic flaw or his downfall; it’s his humanity. His pride, his mistakes, and his quest for truth make him relatable. He’s not diminished by his errors; instead, they render him more human, more like us. The tragedy of Oedipus is not just in the sequence of events leading to his exile but in the burden of awareness he’s forced to bear. His journey towards this harrowing enlightenment, towards facing the truth no matter how ugly, is where his heroism truly lies.

The enduring appeal of Oedipus’ story is a tribute to Sophocles’ understanding of the human heart and his ability to weave a narrative that’s as relevant now as it was in ancient Greece. Through Oedipus, Sophocles explores with a tender yet unflinching gaze, the themes that define our existence: fate, the search for truth, and the enduring human spirit. Oedipus’ saga resonates with us because it is, at its core, a reflection of our own fears, aspirations, and the eternal struggle for meaning and identity in a world that often seems governed by capricious fates.

So, as we turn the last page of “Oedipus Rex,” we’re left with more than just a story of a king’s fall from grace. We’re reminded of the power of narrative to delve into the essence of what it means to be human. Oedipus remains a beacon of the tragic hero archetype, not just for the magnitude of his suffering, but for his courage in confronting it. His tale, etched by Sophocles’ hand, continues to echo through the ages, a poignant reminder of literature’s ability to capture the beauty and tragedy of the human experience.

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Shakespeare’s Othello as a Tragic Hero

  • Shakespeare’s Othello as a Tragic…

Part 1: Othello IS a “Perfect” Tragic Hero

In life, heroes will arise whenever they are called for. It may be the everyday heroes that are seen rescuing a cat from a tree or helping an old lady cross the street. It may also be the heroes that are seen in movies and books rescuing the princess from the dragon or leading their country in battle. Perhaps the rarest hero is the tragic one.

William Shakespeare has artfully crafted some of the most prominent tragic heroes of all time. With one of the greatest being Othello. Othello is a tragic hero because of his noble traits, his tragic flaws, and his tragic downfall.

For someone to be a tragic hero, they must first be a noble character. Othello can be considered a noble character because he is one of high social ranking and he has a genuine heart. Othello, despite coming from a rough past, is an honorable war hero and the general of the Venetian army.

Along with his social stature, Othello also has a noble heart. Although he is sometimes portrayed as violent, Othello’s loving nature can be seen in instances such as when he speaks about Desdemona.

These traits are greatly admired among characters of Othello including Iago who admits that Othello is “of a constant loving, noble nature [and] will prove to Desdemona A most dear husband” (2.1.290-292). Othello’s nobility is quite evident, however, he does have traits that can be viewed as tragic flaws.

Othello is a tragic hero because of his tragic flaw. There are many undesirable traits in Othello, like his jealousy and gullibility. However, the core of these problems and his main tragic flaw is his insecurities. Othello is the only black character and an outsider in Venice brings upon many insecurities.

His vulnerability makes him an easy target for Iago to manipulate his mind; he begins to believe that he isn’t good enough for Desdemona: “She’s gone, I am abused, and my relief Must be to loathe her.

Oh, curse of marriage That we can call these delicate creatures ours And not their appetites!” (3.3.283-286). Iago was easily able to convince Othello that Desdemona has been unfaithful. However, Othello doesn’t realize his insecurities have taken over his life until it is too late and his tragic downfall has already hit rock bottom.

What makes Othello a tragic hero is he experiences a tragic downfall. Othello’s downfall is set into motion when the jealous Iago begins planting seeds of doubt into Othello’s already insecure mind. Iago’s manipulative words convince Othello that his wife is unfaithful; from then on he begins to lose his noble traits.

He treats his wife with little to no respect and eventually smothers her to death. When Iago’s plot is finally unveiled and Othello realizes his terrible mistake, it is evident he has reached his emotional limit: “Whip me, ye devils, From the possession of this heavenly sight! Blow me about in winds, roast me in sulfur, Wash me in steep-down gulfs of liquid fire!—Oh, Desdemona! Desdemona! dead! Oh! Oh!” (5.2.286-290).

In his distraught state of mind and with his broken heart, Othello decides to kill himself. With one fatal stab, this hero’s tale comes to a tragic end.

Othello is a tragic hero because he is noble, he suffers from a fatal tragic flaw and he goes through a tragic downfall. All these traits that Othello exhibits lead him to be known as one of the most well-known tragic heroes in all of literature.

Part 2: Othello is NOT a “Perfect” Tragic Hero

A tragic hero is the noble, virtuous protagonist in a tragedy who has a single fatal flaw that ultimately leads to their downfall. If we separate this definition into a list of characteristics and plot requirements typically seen in tragic heroes and their stories, we can determine the answer to the titular question.

To help us determine how the character is feeling and acting, with minimal stage directions, we can use the patterns in dialogue that Shakespeare uses at different points to convey a character’s mental state. These literary techniques allow us to determine which character has Othello’s trust or love at any given point in the play, and therefore, we can track his journey to destruction, and determine to what extent Othello can be considered the perfect tragic hero.

The language and dialogue in Othello show us the characteristics of the characters and the relationships between them. Othello’s speeches when talking about Desdemona, or his military career, are very poetic, showing what his two priorities are at the moment.

The idiom Othello uses is dignified, measured blank verse, matching the dignified and peaceful character that he starts off as. Desdemona also uses that idiom, emphasizing their love at the beginning of the play. Othello speaks clearly and purposefully and we’re made aware that he’s an impressive and powerful character.

The imagery Othello uses also showcases his character: “Keep up your bright swords, for the dew will rust them,” conveys the peaceful, yet military nature that is characteristic of him in the opening few acts.

The first characteristic typically seen in tragic heroes is that they begin their story as respected, noble people. In the first few acts of the play, we see Othello as someone who possesses extraordinary talents, intellect, and attributes. He has a loving wife, wealth and social connections, and celebrated military accomplishments, which have gotten him to the highest rank in the army.

Whilst certain characters in the play resort to racial slurs, most people we meet respect him. The first act of the play sees Othello in a high-ranking social sphere, a well-respected man who is, for the most part, good. At this point, we can see that Othello begins as a noble character, thereby meeting the first requirement to qualify as a tragic hero.

Iago is an eloquent speaker who uses words to subtly manipulate many characters throughout the play. When Iago manipulates Othello , he uses his judge of character to take advantage of him: Iago uses Othello’s belief that all men are good and honest until proven otherwise (“[Othello] thinks men honest that but seem to be so,” – Iago), by becoming Othello’s most trusted friend.

He then uses this trust to unearth Othello’s insecurity, by twisting the intentions of various conversations and making Othello think something was going on between Cassio and Desdemona. Iago then takes advantage of Othello’s newfound insecurity and his passion for Desdemona, by providing visual “evidence” in the form of the handkerchief, further convincing Othello of Desdemona’s infidelity.

Finally, Iago uses this jealousy, and Othello’s passion for Desdemona, by suggesting that he kills her, which he eventually does. After doing so, Othello’s guilt, combined with his passion for Desdemona, and his low self-esteem, causes him to take his own life.

Iago’s use of language is complicated. He slips between prose and verse, adapting his style to suit his different audiences and purposes. In his soliloquies, we see that Iago’s natural way of talking is blunt and persuasive, which is how he speaks to Roderigo, as in Act 1 Scene 1: “Despise me if I do not. Three great ones of the city in personal suit to make me his lieutenant … but he, as loving his own pride and purposes, Evades them with a bombast circumstance.”

“When talking to Othello, however, Iago uses a posher, more respectful style, as in Act III Scene 3: “Good my lord, pardon me, though I am bound to every act of duty, I am not bound to that all slaves are free to. Utter my thoughts? Why, say they are vile and false…”

Iago’s heavy use of asides and soliloquies also shows his cunning, destructive power; Iago is always lying when he’s talking to other characters, but his soliloquies give the audience a look into his real intentions. They are also a source of dramatic irony and tension.

Othello’s soliloquies occur towards the end of the play , showing that he has now become cunning and destructive, and is lying to the other characters. We can see that he’s no longer confident: in Act 3 he lists reasons Desdemona may have left him:

“Haply, for I am black and have not those soft parts of the conversation that chamberers have, or for I am declined into the vale of years, –yet that’s not much– She’s gone”. He also begins to use Iago’s base idiom, instead of the idiom he and Desdemona shared.

This shows his lack of judgment , Iago’s increasing authority over him, and the loss of harmony between Othello and Desdemona. In Act 4 Scene 1, just before he has a fit, Othello starts using a far less structured style: “Lie with her, lie on her? We say lie on her, when they belie her! Lie with her, zounds!, that’s fulsome … It is not words that shakes me thus. Pish! Noses, ears, and lips. Is’t possible? Confess? handkerchief! O devil!”

Othello’s use of questions shows his new insecurity, whilst his structured style has stopped, in favor of unstructured, messy lines match his mentality: reason has given way to passion. Right at the end of this speech, Othello’s words don’t make any sense, suggesting the hero’s degradation and degeneration. At the end of Act V, Othello returns to his original idiom, showing that he is no longer jealous to the point of madness.

At the end of Othello , Iago has convinced Othello that Desdemona is having an affair with Cassio, even though this is complete fiction. Othello smothers Desdemona, killing her. He then realizes what Iago has done and kills himself.

This is his fall from grace and marks the end of his character arch, from being a noble, revered, kind general, to being manipulated into jealousy and murder, to finally being distraught with guilt, and killing himself.

This type of ending meets the typical requirement of a tragic hero. Othello, therefore, meets the first two characteristics of a tragic hero – beginning in glory, and ending in destruction; and the play is clearly a tragedy, as most of the characters die.

But what is the fatal flaw?

Othello is manipulated by Iago, through various faults: his belief that all men who seem honest are, his insecurities, his passion for Desdemona, and his jealousy.

He then kills himself out of guilt, bringing our total of reasons for his downfall, to five. This is not typical of a tragic hero, who usually only has one fatal flaw, however, it may not be possible to highlight only one reason for Othello’s eventual death, and therefore, whether or not Othello meets possibly the most obvious character trait of a tragic hero, is dubious.

In conclusion, Othello is definitely a tragic hero, however, to say that he is “the perfect tragic hero” is, by definition, not the case. Othello is the noble, virtuous protagonist in a tragedy, however, he has no one fatal flaw that led to his downfall, instead of having many that were responsible.

Having said that, it is up to the reader’s interpretation whether or not they believe there was one overriding flaw that caused the tragedies of the play to take place, and therefore, whether a single fatal flaw is identifiable for Othello, making him the ‘perfect tragic hero’.

Related Posts

  • Macbeth: The Tragic Hero
  • Jealousy in Shakespeare’s Othello
  • Mood in Shakespeare’s Othello
  • Shakespeare’s Othello Act 5: Analysis
  • Shakespeare’s Macbeth: Tragic Hero

Author:  William Anderson (Schoolworkhelper Editorial Team)

Tutor and Freelance Writer. Science Teacher and Lover of Essays. Article last reviewed: 2022 | St. Rosemary Institution © 2010-2024 | Creative Commons 4.0

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73 Essay Hook Examples

essay hook examples and definition, explained below

An essay hook is the first one or two sentences of your essay that are used to grab the reader’s attention and draw them into your discussion.

It is called a hook because it “grabs” the reader and doesn’t let them go! It should have something in there that makes the reader feel curious and intrigued, compelling them to continue reading.

Techniques for Good Essay Hooks

Here are a few techniques that you can use to write a good essay hook:

  • Use a Quotation : Sometimes, a relevant quotation from a well-known author or expert can help establish the context or theme of your essay. Next time you’re conducting research for an essay, keep an eye out for a really compelling quote that you could use as your hook for that essay.
  • Start with a Statement that is Surprising or Unusual: A surprising or unusually statement will draw a reader in, making them want to know more about that topic. It’s good if the statement contradicts common knowledge or reveals an insight about your topic that isn’t immediately obvious. These can be particularly good for argumentative essays where you’re putting forward a controversial or compelling argument as your thesis statement .
  • Tell a Brief Anecdote : A short, interesting story related to your topic can personaize the story, making it more than just a dry essay, and turning it into a compelling narrative that’s worth reading.
  • Use Statistics or Facts: Interesting, surprising, or shocking facts or statistics work similarly to surprising statements: they make us want to know more about a topic. Statistics and facts in your introductions are particularly useful for analytical, expository , and argumentative essays.
  • Start with a Question: Questions that make the reader think deeply about an issue, or pose a question that the reader themselves has considered, can be really effecitve. But remember, questions tend to be better for informal and personal essays, and are generally not allowed in formal argumentative essays. If you’re not sure if you’re allowed to use questions in your essays, check with your teacher first.

Below, I’ll present some examples of hooks that you could use as inspiration when writing your own essay hook.

Essay Hook Examples

These examples might help stimulate your thinking. However, keep in mind that your essay hook needs to be unique to your essay, so use these as inspiration but write your own essay hook that’s perfect for your own essay.

1. For an Essay About Yourself

An essay about yourself can be personal, use “I” statements, and include memories or thoughts that are deeply personal to you.

  • Question: “Have you ever met someone who could turn even the most mundane events into a thrilling adventure? Let me introduce myself.”
  • Anecdote: “The smell of freshly baked cookies always takes me back to the day when I accidentally started a baking business at the age of nine.”
  • Intriguing Statement: “I’ve always believed that you haven’t truly lived until you’ve read a book upside down, danced in the rain, or taught a parrot to say ‘I love pizza.'”
  • Quotation: “As Mark Twain once said, ‘The secret of getting ahead is getting started.’ That’s a philosophy I’ve embraced in every aspect of my life.”
  • Humorous Statement: “I’m a self-proclaimed ‘professional chocolate tester’ – a title that’s not only delicious but also requires extreme dedication.”
  • Start with your Mission Statement : “My life motto is simple but powerful: be the person who decided to go for it.
  • Fact or Statistic: “According to a study, people who speak more than one language tend to be better at multitasking . As a polyglot, I certainly live up to that statistic.”
  • Comparison or Metaphor: “If my life were a book, it would be a blend of an adventurous novel, a suspense thriller, and a pinch of romantic comedy.”
  • Personal Revelation: “Ever since I was a child, I’ve had an uncanny ability to communicate with animals. It’s an unusual skill, but one that has shaped my life in many ways.”
  • Narrative: “The day everything changed for me was an ordinary Tuesday. Little did I know, a single conversation would lead me to discover my true passion.”

2. For a Reflective Essay

A reflective essay often explores personal experiences, feelings, and thoughts. So, your hooks for reflective essays can usually be more personal, intriguing, and engaging than other types of essays. Here are some examples for inspiration:

  • Question: “Have you ever felt as though a single moment could change your entire life? This essay is going to explore that moment for me.”
  • Anecdote: “I was standing on the edge of the Grand Canyon, looking at the vast emptiness, and for the first time, I truly understood the word ‘perspective’.”
  • Bold Statement: “There is a part of me that is still trapped in that room, on that rainy afternoon, holding the letter that would change everything.”
  • Personal Revelation: “The first time I truly felt a sense of belonging wasn’t in a crowded room full of friends, but in the quiet solitude of a forest.”
  • Intriguing Statement: “In my life, silence has been a teacher more profound than any words could ever be.”
  • Quotation: “Einstein once said, ‘The only source of knowledge is experience.’ Now, looking back, I realize how profound that statement truly is.”
  • Comparison or Metaphor: “If my life is a tapestry, then that summer was the vibrant thread that changed the entire pattern.”
  • Narrative: “As the train pulled out of the station, I realized I wasn’t just leaving my hometown, I was leaving my old self behind.”
  • Philosophical Statement: “In the theater of life, we are both the actor and the audience, playing our part and watching ourselves simultaneously.”
  • Emotive Statement: “There is a sort of sweet sorrow in remembering, a joy tinged with a hint of sadness, like the last notes of a beautiful song.”

For an Argumentative Essay

Essay hooks for argumentative essays are often the hardest. This type of essay tends to require the most formal type of academic writing, meaning your hook shouldn’t use first person, and should be more based on fact and objectivity, often at the expense of creativity. Here are some examples.

  • Quotation: “Thomas Jefferson once said, ‘Whenever the people are well-informed, they can be trusted with their own government.’ If Jefferson were alive today, he would likely feel that this meed for a well-informed citizenry is falling well short of where he would aspire.”
  • Provocative Statement: “Despite what romantic films may portray, love at first sight is merely a myth perpetuated by society. This essay will prosecute the argument that love at first sight is a myth.”
  • Statistical Fact: “According to the World Health Organization, depression is the leading psychological disability worldwide. Yet, mental health is still stigmatized and often overlooked. This essay will argue that depression should be seen as a health issue, and stigmatization of depression causes serious harm to society.”
  • Comparison: “Much like an unchecked infection, climate change, if left ignored, can spread far beyond what it is today, causing long-term economic and social problems that may even threaten the longevity of humanity itself.”
  • Contradiction : “While we live in an era of unprecedented technological advancements, millions around the world are still denied basic internet access.”
  • Bold Declaration: “Animal testing is not only ethically unacceptable, but it also undermines the progress of medical research.”
  • Challenging Belief: “Despite popular belief, the automation of jobs is not a threat but an opportunity for society to evolve.”
  • Quotation: “George Orwell wrote in ‘1984’, ‘Big Brother is Watching You.’ In our modern society, with the advancement of technology, this is becoming more of a reality than fiction.”
  • Intriguing Statement: “Despite countless diet fads and fitness trends, obesity rates continue to rise. This argumentative essay will argue that this is because medical practitioners’ approaches to health and weight loss are fundamentally flawed.”
  • Statistical Fact: “Research reveals that over 90% of the world’s plastic waste is not recycled. This alarming figure calls for a drastic change in social attitudes towards consumption and waste management.”
  • Challenging Assumption: “Society often assumes that progress and growth are intrinsically good, but this is not always the case in the realm of economic development.”
  • Contradiction: “Western society upholds the value of freedom, yet every day, members of society cede personal liberties in the name of convenience and security.”
  • Analogy: “Like an overplayed song, when a news story is repeated too often, it loses its impact. In the era of digital media, society is becoming desensitized to critical issues.”
  • Relevant Anecdote: “In a village in India, the arrival of a single computer transformed the lives of the residents. This small anecdote underscores the importance of digital inclusion in today’s world.”
  • Call to Rethink: “In a world where success is often equated with financial wealth, it is time for society to reconsidered what truly constitutes a successful life.”

For a Compare and Contrast Essay

A compare and contrast essay examines two issues, looking at both the similarities and differences between them. A good hook for a compare and contrast essay will immediately signal to the reader the subjects that are being compared and why they’re being compared. Here are sine ideas for hooks for a compare and contrast essay:

  • Quotation: “As Charles Dickens wrote in his novel ‘A Tale of Two Cities’, ‘It was the best of times, it was the worst of times’. This could equally apply to the contrasting dynamics of urban and rural living.”
  • Provocative Statement: “Despite popular belief, cats and dogs have more in common than society tends to think.”
  • Comparison: “Comparing being an only child to growing up with siblings is like contrasting a solo performance with an orchestral symphony.”
  • Contradiction: “While many view classic literature and contemporary fiction as worlds apart, they are more akin to two sides of the same coin.”
  • Bold Declaration: “Android and iPhone may compete in the same market, but their philosophies could not be more different.”
  • Statistical Fact: “Statistics show that children who grow up reading books tend to perform better academically than those who do not. But, the jury is out on how reading traditional books compares to reading e-books on screens.”
  • Quotation: “As Robert Louis Stevenson once wrote, ‘Sooner or later, we all sit down to a banquet of consequences.’ This statement can be used to frame a comparison between short-term and long-term thinking.”
  • Provocative Statement: “Democracy and dictatorship are often seen as polar opposites, but are they are not as different as they seem.”
  • Comparison: “Climate change and plastic pollution are two major environmental issues, yet they demand different approaches and solutions.”
  • Contradiction: “While traditional classrooms and online learning are seen as separate modes of education, they can often blend into a cohesive learning experience.”
  • Bold Declaration: “Though both based on merit, the structures of capitalism and socialism lead to vastly different societal outcomes.”
  • Imagery: “The painting styles of Van Gogh and Monet can be contrasted as a stormy sea versus a tranquil pond.”
  • Historical Reference: “The philosophies of the Cold War-era – capitalism and communism – provide a lens to contrast economic systems.”
  • Literary Comparison: “The dystopian societies portrayed in George Orwell’s ‘1984’ and Aldous Huxley’s ‘Brave New World’ serve as contrasting visions of the future.”
  • Philosophical Question: “Individualism and collectivism shape societies in distinct ways, but neither one can truly exist without the other.”

See Here for my Guide on Writing a Compare and Contrast Essay

For a Psychology Essay

Writing an engaging hook for a psychology essay involves sparking the reader’s interest in the human mind, behavior, or the specific psychology topic you’re discussing. Here are some stimulating hooks for a psychology essay:

  • Rhetorical Question: “How much control do we truly have over our own actions?”
  • Quotation: “Sigmund Freud once said, ‘Unexpressed emotions will never die. They are buried alive and will come forth later in uglier ways.’ This essay will explore whether this is universally true.”
  • Provocative Statement: “Contrary to popular belief, ‘venting out’ anger might actually be fueling the fire of fury.”
  • Comparison: “Just as an iceberg reveals only a fraction of its bulk above water, conscious minds may only be a small piece of who humans truly are.”
  • Contradiction: “While it may seem counterintuitive, studies show that individuals who are more intelligent are also more likely to suffer from mental health issues.”
  • Bold Declaration: “Despite advances in technology, understanding the human brain remains one of the final frontiers in science.”
  • Statistical Fact: “According to a study by the American Psychological Association, nearly one in five adults in the U.S. lives with a mental illness. Yet, mental health continues to be a topic shrouded in stigma.”

For a Sociology Essay

Writing an engaging hook for a sociology essay involves sparking the reader’s interest in social behaviors, cultural phenomena, or the specific sociology topic you’re discussing. Here are ideas for hooks for a sociology essay:

  • Quotation: “As Karl Marx once noted, ‘Social progress can be measured exactly by the social position of the fair sex.’ Sadly, society has not made much progress in gender equality.”
  • Provocative Statement: “Social media, initially created to connect people, is ironically leading society into an era of unprecedented isolation.”
  • Comparison: “Comparing society to a theater, where each individual plays a role, it is possible to start to see patterns and scripts embedded in daily interactions.”
  • Contradiction: “While people often believe that technology is bringing society closer together, evidence suggests that it’s actually driving a wedge between people, creating ‘digital divides’.”
  • Bold Declaration: “Human societies are constructed on deeply ingrained systems of inequality, often invisible to those benefiting from them.”
  • Statistical Fact: “A recent study found that women still earn only 81 cents for every dollar earned by men. This stark wage gap raises questions about equality in the workforce.”

For a College Application Essay

A college essay is a personal statement where you can showcase who you are beyond your grades and resume. It’s your chance to tell your unique story. Here are ten potential hooks for a college essay:

  • Anecdote: “At the age of seven, with a wooden spoon as my baton, I confidently conducted an orchestra of pots and pans in my grandmother’s kitchen.”
  • Provocative Statement: “I believe that life is like a game of chess. The king might be the most important piece, but it’s the pawns that can change the entire course of the game.”
  • Personal Revelation: “It wasn’t until I was lost in a foreign city, armed with nothing but a map in a language I didn’t understand, that I truly discovered my love for adventure.”
  • Intriguing Question: “Have you ever wondered how it feels to be part of two completely different cultures, yet wholly belong to neither?”
  • Bold Declaration: “Breaking a bone can be a painful experience. Breaking stereotypes, however, is an entirely different kind of challenge.”
  • Unusual Fact: “I can recite the periodic table backwards while juggling three tennis balls. It’s a strange talent, but it’s a perfect metaphor for how I tackle challenges.”
  • Quotation: “As Albert Einstein once said, ‘Imagination is more important than knowledge.’ This quote has defined my approach to learning.”
  • Narrative: “It was a cold winter’s day when I first discovered the magic of turning a blank page into a world full of characters, stories, and ideas.”
  • Metaphor: “Like a caterpillar transforming into a butterfly, my high school years have been a period of profound metamorphosis.”
  • Humorous Statement: “Being the youngest of five siblings, I quickly learned that the best way to be heard was to become the family’s unofficial lawyer.”

Conclusion: The Qualities of a Good Essay Hook

As I wrap up this article, I want to share a few last tips on qualities that a good essay hook should have. Keep these tips in mind when writing your essay hook and using the above essay hook examples:

First, relevance . A good hook should be directly relevant to the topic or theme of your essay. The hook should provide a preview of what’s to come without giving too much away.

Second, Intrigue. A great hook should make the reader want to continue reading. It should create a question in the reader’s mind or present a fascinating idea that they want to know more about.

Third, uniqueness. An effective hook should be original and unique. It should stand out from the many other essays that the reader might be going through.

Fourth, clarity. Even though a hook should be captivating and original, it should also be clear and easy to understand. Avoid complex sentences and jargon that might confuse the reader.

Fifth, genre conventions. Too often, my students try to be so creative in their essay hooks that they forget genre conventions . The more formal an essay, the harder it is to write the hook. My general approach is to focus on statistics and facts, and avoid rhetorical questions , with more formal essay hooks.

Keep in mind that you should run your essay hook by your teacher by showing them your first draft before you submit your essay for grading. This will help you to make sure it follows genre conventions and is well-written.

Chris

Chris Drew (PhD)

Dr. Chris Drew is the founder of the Helpful Professor. He holds a PhD in education and has published over 20 articles in scholarly journals. He is the former editor of the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education. [Image Descriptor: Photo of Chris]

  • Chris Drew (PhD) https://helpfulprofessor.com/author/chris-drew-phd/ 15 Animism Examples
  • Chris Drew (PhD) https://helpfulprofessor.com/author/chris-drew-phd/ 10 Magical Thinking Examples
  • Chris Drew (PhD) https://helpfulprofessor.com/author/chris-drew-phd/ Social-Emotional Learning (Definition, Examples, Pros & Cons)
  • Chris Drew (PhD) https://helpfulprofessor.com/author/chris-drew-phd/ What is Educational Psychology?

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  1. Tragic Hero In Oedipus The King and Odyssey Free Essay Example

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COMMENTS

  1. A Tragic Hero: John Proctor : [Essay Example], 1604 words

    A Tragic Hero: John Proctor. The renowned philosopher Aristotle formally outlined the parameters of the tragic hero in his work "On Poetics". Aristotle primarily based his tragic hero model on Oedipus, a king from Greek mythology. He outlined the tragic hero as a person of noble birth who encompasses a fatal flaw, or hamartia, that results ...

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    How to Write Tragedy. Start with the hero. The hero is the main element of any tragedy. The hero should be doing well in the beginning - respected, skilled, and usually honorable. But there's also a key flaw in the hero's character. Pick a flaw that you feel your readers can relate to, something that they may find in themselves from time ...

  3. What Is a Tragic Hero, and How Do You Write About One?

    Tragic heroes are imperfect. The audience sees the character as flawed, and they can relate to and empathize with the hero. Tragic heroes are prideful and often suffer more than necessary. Tragic heroes are generally someone of high status who experiences a drastic change in fortune (from good to bad). The downfall of a tragic hero is evident ...

  4. What Is a Tragic Hero? Definition, Examples & Common Traits

    On the other hand, the tragic hero is someone who is generally morally righteous and heroic, with the exception of their fatal flaw. Their intentions are generally noble, while the anti-hero's usually aren't. If an anti-hero sounds more like what you're looking for, you can check out our definitive guide to anti-heroes.

  5. Tragic Hero

    A tragic hero is a type of character in a tragedy, and is usually the protagonist. Tragic heroes typically have heroic traits that earn them the sympathy of the audience, but also have flaws or make mistakes that ultimately lead to their own downfall. In Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, Romeo is a tragic hero.

  6. Tragic Hero

    Definition of Tragic Hero. Tragic hero is a literary device utilized to create a protagonist for a tragic work of literature. A tragic hero is a character that represents the consequences that come from possessing one or more personal flaws or being doomed by a particular fate. Traditionally, the purpose of tragic hero as a literary device is to evoke pity and/or fear in an audience through ...

  7. Macbeth: A Tragic Hero Analysis: [Essay Example], 619 words

    According to Aristotle, a tragic hero is a character who is noble and virtuous, yet possesses a fatal flaw that leads to their downfall. The tragic hero experiences a reversal of fortune, often brought about by their own actions, and ultimately meets a tragic end. Macbeth fits this definition perfectly. At the beginning of the play, he is a ...

  8. 6 Tragic Hero Examples for a Heroic Essay

    Need some more inspiration, check out these tragic hero essay examples: Willy Loman as the Tragic Hero in the Play, Death of a Salesman. Describing the Tragic Hero in the Epic Poem, Paradise Lost. The Tragic Hero of Dick Diver in the Novel Tender is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald.

  9. Learn How to Write Tragedy

    Aristotle's word meaning the tragic hero experiences a reversal of fate. 4. Anagnorisis. Aristotle describes this part of the tragedy as the hero discovering something important in the story. 5. Nemesis. You may be more familiar with this thought: a tragic hero should have a nemesis, or some kind of punishment he or she can't avoid. 6 ...

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    Start by creating the tragic hero, who must have a fatal flaw, like too much pride. Then, decide what their tragic downfall will be, like a villain getting revenge on the hero or even the hero dying. Build the rest of the plot around their fate by creating conflict between the hero and the villain and adding exciting plot twists.

  11. John Proctor

    John Proctor is a character in The Crucible who can be described as a tragic hero. Firstly, John Proctor's tragic flaw was his great amount of pride, that slowly tied a series of unfortunate events, eventually making Proctor succumb to his death. However, Proctor does die for a crime he did not commit. Another important part of being a tragic hero is that the character has a complete ...

  12. Tragic Hero Essay

    A tragic hero is a very favored person that suffers from a downfall which leads to their death. John Proctor, like many others, is a tragic hero. The author, Arthur Miller, gives John Proctor the role of a tragic hero throughout the story of The Crucible. This protagonist, John Proctor, made judgement errors that inevitably led to his own ...

  13. How does Othello portray the aspects of a tragic hero in the

    Hence, when writing your introductory paragraph consider Othello's rise and fall from grace: From a place of honor, the hero has fallen through some tragic flaw. In this case, the fatal flaw is ...

  14. Shakespearean Macbeth as a Tragic Hero

    Shakespearean Macbeth as a Tragic Hero Essay. Greek mythology gave birth to the idea of the tragic hero, in which the concepts of the hero play a tremendous role. Aristotelian thought indicates "the tragic effect will be stronger if the hero is 'better than we are', in that he is of higher than ordinary moral worth.

  15. Oedipus by Sophocles: a Tragic Hero

    The prophecy that haunted his cradle—killing his father and marrying his mother—unravels despite his best efforts to dodge destiny. It's this journey, fraught with good intentions and tragic missteps, that cements Oedipus as the epitome of a tragic hero. His story isn't just about the pitfalls of fate; it's a deep dive into the human ...

  16. A Look At Macbeth Tragic Hero English Literature Essay

    In the play "Macbeth", the plot focuses around a war hero who becomes greedy for power, which leads to his ultimate coronation as King, and demise. At the beginning of the play, Shakespeare displays Macbeth as a war hero, back from his latest campaign, and given a new title. At first, he is shown as a good person, however, after the ...

  17. Macbeth Tragic Hero Essay

    Macbeth Tragic Hero Essay: Macbeth is considered one of Shakespeare's classic tragic heroes. Usually, the tragic hero is a figure of high stature. The person is most righteous but suffers a self-inflicted downfall due to flaws in their personality. Macbeth, the play's protagonist, was a good character, but he faces his decline due to his wrong […]

  18. How Is Brutus a Tragic Hero: [Essay Example], 684 words

    Brutus is often considered a tragic hero due to his noble stature and his eventual downfall. As a senator of Rome and a close friend of Julius Caesar, Brutus is seen as an honorable and virtuous man. However, his decision to join the conspiracy to assassinate Caesar ultimately leads to his own demise. In this essay, we will explore how Brutus ...

  19. Shakespeare's Othello as a Tragic Hero

    Desdemona! dead! Oh! Oh!" (5.2.286-290). In his distraught state of mind and with his broken heart, Othello decides to kill himself. With one fatal stab, this hero's tale comes to a tragic end. Othello is a tragic hero because he is noble, he suffers from a fatal tragic flaw and he goes through a tragic downfall.

  20. Othello as a Tragic Hero and His Downfall

    Othello as a Tragic Hero and His Downfall. A tragic hero is a person who makes a bad judgment that leads to their own destruction. Having culpability is having guilt and responsibility for an event or situations. Othello by Shakespeare had been a story that ended with a tragedy as both Desdemona and Othello die at the end.

  21. Julius Caesar Sample Essay Outlines

    A. Caesar's death causes a power struggle in Rome as the conspirators become the new leaders. B. Brutus' funeral speech and his rise to power as the crowds want to make him king. C. Antony's ...

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    Techniques for Good Essay Hooks. Here are a few techniques that you can use to write a good essay hook: Use a Quotation: Sometimes, a relevant quotation from a well-known author or expert can help establish the context or theme of your essay.Next time you're conducting research for an essay, keep an eye out for a really compelling quote that you could use as your hook for that essay.